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Smart Assistant Privacy: What Data Is Collected and How to Protect Yourself
Did you hear the one about the snoopy smart assistant?
We love Alexa, there's no end to how you can use this technology. But it's no secret that the smart assistants in our smart hubs, smart speakers, phones, and tablets are relaying our data back to their manufacturers. The question is, what data are they collecting? And how can users opt out?
What does your smart assistant know about you?
We combed through the terms and conditions of your favorite smart assistants to learn what information users agree to let manufacturers collect.
It makes sense that some of this data would be collected. For instance, if you frequently ask Alexa to buy dental floss on Amazon. It seems pretty straightforward that Amazon would want to keep a record of that for future product suggestions. And it's a no-brainer that a smart home assistant manufacturer would want to collect data about how well its devices perform.
But your contacts' information? Your frequent locations? Your photo albums? It's much harder to make the case that this data needs to be shared.
All five of the smart assistants we looked at for this piece collect data about your interactions. And because these assistants are always listening for their wake words, they can potentially pick up on some things you don't mean for them to hear. Just ask the man whose Echo became a witness in a murder trial.
How do you update your privacy settings?
If you're feeling a little uneasy about all this, you're not alone.
Luckily, you can opt out of sharing some information with your smart home assistant. You just have to know where to look.
Update Alexa privacy settings
To update your Amazon Alexa privacy settings, open the Alexa app. Then, select More > Settings > Alexa Privacy.
You'll see several options that allow you to manage your privacy. To view conversations Alexa has heard in the past, select Review Voice History. To revoke permission for Alexa to share your conversations with Amazon corporate, select Manage Your Alexa Data and toggle off the Help improve Alexa option.
Update Google Assistant privacy settings
To update your Google Assistant privacy settings for your Google Home, first open your Google Home app. Select your profile icon, then Assistant settings > Your data in the Assistant.
You can prevent Google Assistant from recording and sharing your conversations by selecting Audio recordings and unchecking the Include audio recordings box.
If you're concerned about your Google use in general, you can opt out of the Include Chrome history and activity from sites, apps, and devices that use Google services option on the same page.
You can also visit myactivity.google.com to view and delete your Google Home's overheard conversations.
Update Siri privacy settings
To keep Siri from storing your HomePod or iPhone voice commands, you have to turn off several different settings. Check out Apple's Siri privacy settings instructions for more information.
Update Bixby privacy settings
If you use Samsung SmartThings and want to preserve your privacy, Samsung suggests contacting the company directly--in addition to updating or removing personal information on your SmartThings profile.
If you just want to limit Bixby on your Samsung phone, press and hold the Bixby button. Pull up the bar at the bottom of the screen and select the Options symbol. Then select Settings > Privacy.
Update Cortana privacy settings
Like Siri, Cortana's privacy permissions are scattered across several different areas. Microsoft's instructions can help you turn off these various data-collection features.
How are Americans using their smart assistants?
We sent out a smart assistant usage survey to find out how Americans use smart assistants. Here's what we found out about their usage, privacy concerns, and settings.
- 76% of Americans report that they've used a smart assistant (such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri, Samsung Bixby, or Microsoft Cortana).
- 56% say they use a smart assistant daily.
- 56% of the smart-assistant users we surveyed say they are concerned about having their data collected (but use a smart assistant anyway).
- 60% of smart-assistant users say they're concerned about their voice recordings being listened to by someone else.
- 61% of smart-assistant users say they're concerned about the voice assistant always listening to them in the background.
- 45% of smart-assistant users report that they've tried to disable a smart assistant; however, 38% weren't successful in figuring it out.
We aren't always paying attention to what data our smart assistants are collecting, but once we're aware, there are steps we can take to keep some of our private information private.
Methodology and sources
Here's how we came up with the data and resources for this article.
- Amazon Alexa
- Google Assistant
- Apple Siri
- Samsung Bixby
- Microsoft Cortana
We recorded the data collected as expressed in the statements and matched up collection points where possible. Some statements used different phrasing to refer to the same data point, so we consolidated the data for comparison clarity.
In addition, Reviews.org surveyed 1,000 Americans aged 18 and older to collect information about their smart-assistant usage, sentiments, and privacy concerns.